Introduction The long co-evolution of Homo sapiens and Plasmodium falciparum has resulted in the selection of numerous human genetic variants that confer an advantage against severe malaria and death. One such variant is the Dantu blood group antigen, which is associated with 74% protection against severe and complicated P. falciparum malaria infections in homozygous individuals, similar to that provided by the sickle haemoglobin allele (HbS). Recent in vitro studies suggest that Dantu exerts this protection by increasing the surface tension of red blood cells, thereby impeding the ability of P. falciparum merozoites to invade them and reducing parasite multiplication. However, no studies have yet explored this hypothesis in vivo. Methods We investigated the effect of Dantu on early phase P. falciparum (Pf) infections in a controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) study. 141 sickle negative Kenyan adults were inoculated with 3.2x103 aseptic, purified, cryopreserved Pf sporozoites (PfSPZ Challenge) then monitored for blood-stage parasitaemia for 21 days by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analysis of the 18S ribosomal RNA P. falciparum gene. The primary endpoint was blood-stage P. falciparum parasitaemia of ≥500/µl while the secondary endpoint was the receipt of antimalarial treatment in the presence of parasitaemia of any density. On study completion, all participants were genotyped both for Dantu and for four other polymorphisms that are associated with protection against severe falciparum malaria: α+-thalassaemia, blood group O, G6PD deficiency, and the rs4951074 allele in the red cell calcium transporter ATP2B4. Results The primary endpoint was reached in 25/111 (22.5%) non-Dantu subjects, in comparison to 0/27 (0%) Dantu heterozygotes and 0/3 (0.0%) Dantu homozygotes (p=0.01). Similarly, 49/111 (44.1%) non-Dantu subjects reached the secondary endpoint in comparison to only 7/27 (25.9%) and none of the 3 (0.0%) Dantu heterozygotes and homozygotes respectively (P=0.021). No significant impacts on either outcome were seen for any of the other variants under study. Conclusion This study reveals, for the first time, that the Dantu blood group is associated with high level protection against early, non-clinical, P. falciparum malaria infections in vivo. Learning more about the mechanisms involved could potentially lead to new approaches to the prevention or treatment of the disease. Our study illustrates the power of CHMI with PfSPZ Challenge for directly testing the protective impact of genotypes previously identified using other methods.Competing Interest Statement
SLH and members of the CHMI-SIKA Study Team (YA, PFB, ERJ, TLR, and BKLS; see Author Information) are salaried, full-time employees of Sanaria, the manufacturer of Sanaria PfSPZ Challenge.Clinical Trial
The Kenya CHMI study was supported by an award from Wellcome (grant number 107499). SK was supported by a Training Fellowship (216444/Z/19/Z), TNW by a Senior Research Fellowship (202800/Z/16/Z) and JCR by an Investigator Award (220266/Z/20/Z), all from Wellcome.Author Declarations
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The KEMRI Scientific and Ethics Review Unit (protocol KEMRI/SERU/CGMR-C/029/3190) of the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Kenya, and the University of Oxford Tropical Research Ethics Committee (OxTREC; protocol 2-16) of the University of Oxford in the UK gave ethical approval for this work.
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